BEGINNING A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE (Series)
Moving Beyond the Mind - 4
Most of us are accustomed to thinking of ourselves in terms of what we feel and think. Thoughts often roam through our minds unbidden, yet very familiar to us in their repetitiveness and in their sense of belonging.
Feelings operate in a similar fashion. There are emotions that appear regularly in our life as human beings. These give rise to meanings that we attribute to certain events, relationships, or situations that may be positive or negative, yet that are familiar to us since they shape the internal constellation of identity which we recognize as our 'self'.
As spiritual deepening takes place, the possibility for having new experiences that are not of the mind nor of the landscape of these typical feelings becomes more possible. These experiences, arising from a different portion of our consciousness, convey to us that there are other levels of reality that exist besides the one that we perceive through our mental process, and these levels are as real as the latter. Yet, even after such recognition occurs and has been repeated many times over, we may still find ourselves clinging to an identity shaped around certain thoughts and feelings, not because it is our conscious intention to do so, but because these aspects of our being have been associated for so long with our sense of who we are.
The help of a spiritual practice lies in the fact that it teaches us to detach from the familiar constellation of 'I' and to form a new relationship with our inner emotional landscape. In relation to thought and feeling, we discover that we carry these energies within us but they are not us. Indeed, we are something far deeper, far vaster. The many spiritual practices that have developed over time each have, as a goal, the desire to lead us to this vaster place. They are the various forms of meditation, prayer, and ritual that form the foundation of different religions, schools of meditation, and spiritual paths. They are the many routes to the One. Each one helps us to find a source of identity in the deeper layers of our spiritual being. Each one has a validity in its own right. Though each may foster a different kind of spiritual awareness, all are true, all are pathways to the same Source.
The kind of re-centering of identity that is the goal of a spiritual practice is an outcome made more possible today by the availability of greater light on the earth which more easily permits intimate experiences of the spiritual world. Today, it is easier than it has ever been to recognize that we are spiritual beings living in a sacred world, surrounded only by life's gifts of ongoing mystery and blessing.
At this time, therefore, we can begin to more easily detach ourselves from our lesser identity in order to move into the greater. In small ways, we can begin to monitor our thought process, to witness its ebb and flow. to watch thoughts go by like birds in the sky. This capacity to witness can grow during meditative practice, but it can also grow as we become more responsible for the contents of our consciousness on a daily basis. In both arenas, we become aware that thoughts have a life of their own. Within our spiritual practice we learn to separate from these and to go deeper. Within our daily life, we learn to regulate our thoughts and to choose which ones we want to hold and which we want to cast out from our consciousness. In both cases, we witness ourselves as the vessel in which the flow of thought and feeling takes place, yet come to see beyond this.
The recognition that thoughts are not the 'self' and that these can be separated from in service to a higher goal is a pivotal step in the movement toward a more authentic experience of reality. No longer do we need to give much weight to the old patterns of observing and judging that may have been with us for a lifetime. Instead, we can tolerate these in a benevolent way, without giving them much energy and without identifying with them. In this way we remove their power to influence us or to determine our actions.
The passage to freedom which involves the progressive realization of our deeper identity may take time, or it may be achieved quickly, depending upon what our soul is ready for and what it is capable of receiving as truth. Often, initial breakthroughs into new awareness take place suddenly and with intensity, but these must be stabilized and integrated over longer periods of time. In whatever practice we choose to do this, the primary consideration needs to be this: do we find, when engaging in this practice, that we are reaching toward a place of greater truth and reality that resonates with some portion of ourselves that our minds cannot grasp, yet which we feel, nevertheless, is real? Or, are we merely acceeding to a practice for a reason which does not lie in the integrity of our own experience.
The decisive factor in whatever practice is chosen needs to be the sense of fit - the very personal and intimate knowing that comes with a sense of joy and relief that one is finally pointed in the right direction. Though this direction may change over time as new conditions and new needs enter the picture, the time spent during a spiritual practice will always be valuable as a way of orienting the self to the next level of knowledge, awareness, and growth that the self is ready for. This choice, in whatever direction it takes us, is a choice for the greater life of the spirit, and will support our endeavors not only during the time of the actual practice, but during the rest of life as well, as the overflow spills into our days, enriching and transforming them in keeping with evolving spiritual awareness.
Article Section - Purification
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